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5G FAQs

Looking for answers about 5G technology?

Given its ground-breaking nature, the sheer volume of inquiries we receive about 5G is no surprise. Questions about 5G for business run the gamut, ranging from spectrum types and security to rollout timelines and coverage areas. Take a look at our answers to the 5G questions we receive most frequently.

5G is the 5th generation of cellular technologies as standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The 5G standard is focused on three areas: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for greater capacity and network efficiency, Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) for applications like autonomous driving, and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) for widespread IoT applications. There is no single new technology that defines 5G. Instead, the advantages of 5G come from a variety of core network innovations, air interface innovations, and the use of new spectrum.

Many believe that 5G is one type of deployment with one range of performance. The truth is, besides the usual distance and object interference factors, the spectrum band that 5G is deployed with is the greatest determinant of performance.

5G is being deployed in either the 600 MHz to 6 GHz (called Sub-6 GHz or Sub-6) frequency bands or in spectrum over 24 GHz (called millimeter wave or mmWave). When 5G is deployed in the high spectrum band (mmWave), performance will be extremely fast — 300 Mbps to 3 Gbps download speeds. When deployed on lower bands of Sub-6 (below 2 GHz, which is the current cellular spectrum), download speeds will be similar to 4G LTE and Gigabit-Class LTE speeds. Deploying in the mid bands of Sub-6 (2 GHz to 6 GHz), 5G speeds will be between 100 Mbps and 1.5 Gbps.

Across the globe, network operators have chosen to deploy the 5G standard with one of the spectrum bands, depending on their spectrum ownership and market strategies. Some operators are deploying across multiple spectrum bands.

As stated above, 5G can be deployed with different spectrum bands. For each spectrum band, there is an inverse relationship between performance and propagation (The extent that a radio wave will travel or penetrate objects). Spectrum bands with high propagation have lower performance characteristics, while spectrum bands with low propagation have higher performance characteristics.

To be more specific, the high spectrum mmWave band (see definitions above) has high data capacity but must be in the line of sight or use reflections and have practical transmission limits of less than a kilometer. Adverse weather may also negatively affect mmWave transmission. Low spectrum bands have high propagation properties with radio waves traveling up to 50 kilometers between towers but have low data capacity. Many consider the mid band of Sub-6 the sweet spot that mitigates the propagation-performance tradeoff.

5G Enhanced Mobile Broadband started to roll out in 2019 across a variety of spectrum bands depending upon regional operator strategies. Operators deploying in the low-band spectrum, where tower density can be small, could roll out within a year, offering lower data speeds. Operators deploying in the higher band of mmWave, which require much greater densification, may take years to fully roll out but will offer much greater data capacity. Operators deploying in the mid band will mitigate the tradeoff of time to rollout and data capacity.

A new network core called Standalone Core must be in place to deploy Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) capabilities. It is estimated that operators will start implementing the Standalone Core at the end of 2020 and will take some time for full implementation.

5G will not replace 4G. In fact, 4G LTE is the foundational technology of 5G. For the initial 5G deployments, modems will maintain two connections: 5G and 4G LTE, which includes Gigabit-Class LTE. If a 5G signal weakens, traffic automatically flows through the LTE connection.

Officially known as LTE-Advanced Pro, Gigabit-Class LTE is the latest version of the 4G LTE standard and is rolling out throughout the world. Using technologies including carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4×4 MIMO, Gigabit-Class LTE can achieve practical download speeds between 50 and 350 Mbps. This means the fallback connection for 5G will be faster than many wired solutions.

So far, 5G has been hyped as the cellular generation that will make VR and AR mobile and will usher in an era of self-driving vehicles. While that may be true, 5G’s greatest opportunity likely will be for businesses. More specifically, 5G will significantly improve 4G business applications and will assuredly spawn currently unthought-of applications.

For instance, consider the following examples. Organizations that could only use 4G LTE for failover of its most critical traffic can now use wireless for failover of all traffic. Organizations using wireless video for facial recognition can deploy machine recognition. Firefighters, who today can use cellular sensors, can now have building diagrams fed into their masks, allowing them to virtually see through the smoke. The table below offers a more exhaustive sample of Wireless WAN use cases while comparing them to current 4G LTE and Gigabit-Class LTE use cases.

4G LTE Gigabit-Class LTE 5G
Video for public safety Visual recognition and recording Live HD visual recognition Machine recognition and response
Video for marketing Digital signage Interactive digital signage Immersive augmented reality
Wireless WAN Cut the cord
(lower bandwidth requirements)
Cut the cord
(higher bandwidth requirements)
Cut the cord
(fiber-like requirements)
Branch high availability Critical application failover All application failover Built-in wireless failback
Industrial operations Wireless monitoring Wireless remote operation Wireless autonomous operation
Branch high availability Critical application failover All application failover Built-in wireless failback
Workforce collaboration Video collaboration HD video collaboration Augmented reality collaboration
Medical Remote consultation Remote diagnosis Remote assisted surgery
Transportation Tracking and telemetry applications Multimedia tracking and telemetry Autonomous operation

The need for large-scale Wireless LAN is significant, but the ability of Wi-Fi or public LTE to meet that need is limited. Many organizations are instead deploying Private LTE, which can use a range of spectrums — including CBRS — to reduce congestion, enhance traffic flow, improve information security, and dramatically drive down costs.

A Private LTE network leverages micro towers and small cells — similar to a Wi-Fi access point — on-site to replicate the larger public network. Private LTE can be based on licensed, unlicensed, or shared spectrum.

With 5G standards being ratified and public 5G rolling out rapidly, Private 5G will soon emerge as another option for use cases requiring private large area coverage or when using mmWave, high capacity, low latency in indoor areas. Private 5G will be a marked improvement over Private LTE by offering higher data capacity, lower latency, and network slicing.

First, to be clear, 5G is the latest standard for public wireless or cellular networks, while 5 GHz is one of the two spectrum categories that is used for broadcasting Wi-Fi. The two terms cannot be properly interchanged.

5G will impact Wi-Fi in some ways and will have little impact in others. Here are the likely effects of 5G on Wi-Fi:

  • When millimeter wave 5G and mid-band Sub-6 (prior section) become pervasive, there will be less dependency on public Wi-Fi hotspots as speeds improve dramatically and as carriers move closer to true flat-rate pricing. However, there are and will continue to be many devices that only use Wi-Fi, which should offset any decline in the growth of Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • When the Massive Machine Type Communications element of 5G rolls out, the need for small Wi-Fi networks connected to IoT gateways will decrease as IoT devices will directly connect to public wireless networks.
  • Just as Private LTE is displacing Wi-Fi in large or highly dense areas, Private 5G will accelerate that trend as costs decrease over time.
  • Wi-Fi is still the best platform for fixed small-area private networks. With the rollout of Wi-Fi 6, the enormous installed base of corporate and home Wi-Fi users will be bolstered and continue to grow.

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The latest insights and highlights on how 5G will help organizations connect beyond traditional wired networks.